The next Welsh Government should commit to progressive policies or risk a ‘whitewashed’ green recovery, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales is warning.

Sophie Howe, who has asked women from across Wales to share their hopes for future generations in a new videfor International Women’s Day, is urging political parties to promise action on closing inequality gaps as we plan a recovery from COVID-19. 

New research co-authored by the commissioner finds females and people of non-white ethnicity are under-represented in green industries, with traditional green jobs currently held in the majority by white males. 

The commissioner has partnered with New Economics Foundation (NEF) and Wales TUC to outline the challenges and opportunities for Wales in a green recovery which tackles COVID-19 and climate change fairly. 

Wales TUC suggest 60,000 green jobs could be created in Wales if we invest properly in the green economy. Green jobs are wide and varying and can be anything from home insulation, reforestation and natural flood defence work, to forest schooling.  

Welsh Government, which declared a climate emergency in 2019, has committed to a legal duty to cut carbon emissions by 100% by 2050. This rapid transition to a low carbon economy to meet climate targets has the potential, says Ms Howe, to create new jobs, improve people’s health, restore our natural environment and help protect communities against the impacts of climate change, such as flooding. 

Yet the new analysis finds equality gaps – in construction of buildings (like social housing and greening homes) 27% of the workforce is female and 5% non-white ethnicity. In agriculture, forestry and related trades, 25% are female and 0.76% non-white ethnicity. In electrical installation, 29% of the workforce is female and 6% of non-white ethnicity. 

Covid-19 has highlighted inequalities in health and employment. The unemployment rate nationally has reached 8.5% for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic workers compared with 4.5% for white workers. 

Action is needed, said the commissioner, to link those disproportionately affected by the pandemic and climate change to new jobs, skills and opportunities that will come from the transition to net zero. 

And women, including young women, young Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women, disabled women, older women attempting to re-enter work or change sector, need assurance they’ll be included and supported by the green recovery. 

Ms Howe is calling on parties to include progressive policies tackling green inequities in their manifestos, if Wales is to achieve an equal pathway to net zero, and the “just transition” commitment under the Paris Agreement on climate change.  

Her Manifesto for the Future makes recommendations for creating a more equal Wales, one of the Act’s goals, set in law. 

She’s calling for preventative National Wellness System, which could include the introduction of a basic income pilot to take action on poverty and in-work poverty being a barrier to good health, and making sure people have access to green spaces within 300m from their homes, and 20-minute (walkable) neighbourhoods. A new poll commissioned by Ms Howe finds a basic income pilot is supported by 69% of people in Wales. 

The commissioner’s asked government to set out a plan for responding to future trends, such as increasing automation, our ageing population and climate change, in ways that reduce inequalities rather than perpetuating them. 

Sophie Howe said: “The path to net zero holds opportunities, from jobs to healthier and better connected and greener communities.  But as we respond to the immediate needs of the pandemic, we have to stop inequalities worsening in the future, or the green recovery will be a whitewash. 

“Challenging the structural barriers currently in place for people already disadvantaged means creating an equal skills pipeline, and doing more to actively target under-represented people such as women and non-white people. 

“We must keep up the pace and make every policy and spending decision work harder to deliver multiple benefits as required by the Well-being of Future Generations Act.” 

Shavanah Taj, general secretary, Wales TUC, said: “A green recovery also has to be a fair and inclusive recovery. We all agree we need to build back better, which is why getting a clear picture of our starting point and the skills gap is extremely important. 

“Now we need to work with employers and government on workforce planning, so that any investment to upskill our workforce and decarbonise our homes also results in good quality work and a much more diverse construction sector. We won’t build back better unless we plan the details in partnership, especially when it comes to diversity. 

“This is part of our wider ambition for a just transition to a low carbon economy, where no worker is left behind and state investment raises up those people who are typically held back by our jobs market, including women workers and those from BME backgrounds.” 

Alex Chapman, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said: “There has been lots of talk of green jobs and a green recovery and the Welsh Government has some good ambitions, but the pathway between someone out of work and a green job remains fraught with challenges, particularly for people from groups under-represented in the sectors of the future. 

Until the route to green employment is cleared, communities will struggle to trust in big green promises. This means getting a much better handle on where jobs are going to be created, how the relevant skills and training can be accessed, and how future green workers are going to sustain their incomes while training and upskilling. Many workers, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds remain trapped in an economy of low wages, insecure work, multiple jobs, high rent and out of reach house prices.” 

Cerys Furlong, chief executive, Chwarae Teg, said: “It’s vital that recovery plans have a clear gender equality focus. Our politicians must look at the root of the problems affecting women and how different groups such as BAME people and those with a disability have been hit harder, and consequently what specific support they need to reach their potential. Barriers in education which lead to gender segregation in the labour market must be addressed, and we must have investment in public services such as childcare and social care to support women in, and into, work. 

“Green industries, like others in STEM, offer rewarding careers. They are high growth sectors, with higher pay and better chances for progression and there should be opportunities for all to be able access careers within them.” 

Gareth Hicks, development officer, Children in Wales, said: “The highlighting of this issue in the analysis presented by Sophie Howe’s team to the future government of Wales is welcomed, however, to see the workforce number in a green sector for the BAME community is under 1% is unsettling and grim. It shows a severe issue of a lack of inclusion and cohesion. Inclusivity can promote an atmosphere of creativity and the mentioned sectors are in dire need of creative programs and workforce to reach their goals. We must as a nation provide more opportunities to ensure we close the enormous unemployment gap between white and BAME communities in Wales. Going forward to plan and dictate the narrative, all communities including young people need to be around the table, to work out a better inclusive greener future for Wales.” 

Dr Olwen Williams, vice president for Wales, Royal College of Physicians, said: “Tackling health inequalities is about so much more than the NHS. It’s about safe housing, access to good quality education, and sustainable, well paid jobs. The more supported and equal our society, the healthier we will be. That’s why the RCP is calling on the next Welsh government to commit to a cross-government strategy on health inequalities which recognises that a healthier Wales is the responsibility of every single minister and government department.” 

Catherine Fookes, director of WEN (Women’s Equality Network) Walesemphasised the need to remove the barriers of affordable childcare preventing women from accessing opportunities in green sectors. 

She said: “Building back from the pandemic needs a green and caring recovery, which should lead to a caring economy. We must provide accessible, affordable childcare for all parents (working or not, self-employed or not) from six months and invest in the childcare profession and nurseries. Care work must be valued and it must be part of the recovery plan.” 

Kirsty James, campaigns officer, RNIB Wales, saidThe pandemic has shown that we can quickly adapt and change the way we work. So many people are now working from home. This meaning more disabled women could access opportunities to enter into employment as a lot of the barriers experienced are taken away. For example not having to commute or access in accessible buildings. Disabled women are on a more equal playing field of the skills and expertise they can bring to change the sector to be more inclusive. The future looks brighter if we learn from the steps that have been taken during this pandemic.”


Notes to editors 

Sophie Howe is the world’s first Future Generations Commissioner charged with ensuring the Well-being of Future Generations Act is upheld – protecting current and future generations. 

The commissioner is today [Monday, March 8] releasing a video from women in Wales, sharing their hopes for future generations and reflections on what it means to be a woman in Wales in 2021. 


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